When is the last time an incumbent James Bond actor was given the luxury of a send-off? Most simply found out the franchise was going with someone new, and even if the writing was on the wall then getting an actual definite ‘last film’ to say goodbye with is unheard of.
So then, No Time To Die marks not only a troubled Bond release thanks to constant pandemic induced delays, but also that rarest of things: a chance to salute a character reinvigorated by the outgoing man who played him.
Of course that it is even possible to give a send-off to the Daniel Craig era of the iconic British Spy 007 is due to the preceding films following an unprecedented chronological narrative rather than simply pumping out ‘one and done’ blockbusters.
Such an approach has had mixed results (Quantum of Solace just didn’t know what to do with itself and Spectre’s attempt to retrofit events creaked audibly) but even if clunky at times, such an approach has led to Craig’s Bond in No Time To Die as retired, bitter, and out of trust.
In getting us to this point No Time To Die spends a commendable, and gorgeous, amount of time working on something frequently missing: characterisation.
The opening scene is compelling, as a young girl struggles desperately to survive through a tense and beautifully shot sequence where a masked assassin brutally attacks her home. Our sympathies are therefore cleverly retained when Madeleine, grown up and in a loving relationship with Bond, is abandoned by him when he suspects she has sold him out to Spectre.
When a highly individualised assassination technology is stolen, Bond is dragged out of retirement by CIA agent and friend Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright returning after his absence from the last two films). Things, predictably, do not go according to plan.
No Time To Die comes in at a buttock busting 163 minutes but whilst there are times where link up exposition has to go through the motions, director Cary Joji Fukunaga skilfully keeps his greatest hits package together with ample fizz and bounce.
Is No Time To Die Worth Watching?
Greatest Hits package is the key. No Time To Die presents such a tidy summing up of Craig’s era that you could uncharitably say that it does nothing that earlier movies haven’t done better.
It’s true that there are no jaw-dropping wow moments, per se. Yet, by focusing more strongly on Bond’s actual feelings (he has them!) and by not binning off Madeleine so that Bond can work through the classic three women (one or two of which should die) formula, No Time To Die pulls off its stunts with a richness of personal touch that is so frequently missing.
Bond’s sleaziness has been a long-established part of the character, and it is welcome that both Daniel Craig (Knives Out) and Barbara Broccoli (controller of the Bond franchise along with half brother Michael G. Wilson since 1995’s GoldenEye) has scaled this back to the occasional dramatic sting rather than wallpaper the films with it.
Indeed, one of the most fun parts of the film is when Bond pairs up with CIA agent Paloma (Ana de Armas). Her initial nerves and inexperience would have brought out the misogyny in a previous Bond, and yet come the end of their bombastic Jamaican action sequence she is seen off with a smile. “You were excellent,” beams Bond, freed by the tiresome script need to bed every woman he meets.
No Time To Die has problems; the same problems that have plagued the modern Craig era. Spectre as an antagonistic force is so faceless as to be bereft of threat.
That I’m not mentioning the supposed primary threat Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malik doing a bit of a voice and sporting the embarrassingly outdated franchise facial disfigurement = baddie look) until the closing paragraphs of this review is me giving him as much time as the movie itself does. He exists as a plot mover and reason for cinematographically spotty final location, but his talk of world domination rings hollow.
Even if, at its lowest points, No Time To Die offers a lack of grand plot thrust beyond the normal ‘go here save the day’ interchangeability, what will linger is how much more human Bond has become.
Daniel Craig grasps the opportunity to fill the screen with a rich iceberg performance, where more and more of him rises to the surface as he subconsciously fights for redemption.
With a new, younger 007 walking the halls of MI6 (Lashana Lynch spitting feathers as well as bullets as the dinosaur passes by) and with so much of what made Bond Bond now consigned to history, that No Time To Die is able to bring to an end Craig’s era without feeling self-indulgent is a huge achievement.
Those now iconic cool crystal blue eyes may be glinting in the sunset, but they can still warm the hearts of all of those who wave goodbye.
Words by Mike Record
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